Friday, June 01, 2007

Condo Reality Trumps Trump's Sales Bluster (Mirabilis)

Condo reality trumps Trump's sales bluster
Published March 18, 2007

Are you thinking about buying an upscale, urban condo?

Don't settle for some chump dump in downtown Orlando. Not when you can move down the road to Tampa and live like The Donald.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Trump Tower Tampa, 190 units and 52 stories of sheer elegance.

Here it is, straight from Donald's mouth: "The architectural design is truly distinctive, establishing a bold new landmark on the city skyline. Every residence will afford sweeping views of the water, and every detail -- from the splendid finishes to the unrivaled amenities -- will reflect the exceptionally high standards that every Trump building must satisfy."

Donald arrived at the sales launch in 2005 with his usual panache. He proclaimed the project a major success with reservations on 98 percent of the units. He bemoaned not owning any more of the project than his already "substantial stake."

Downtown Tampa was to be reborn. The groundbreaking was in March 2006, with completion in 2008.

And now I fast forward to the present, standing at a spot where I should be buried under a good 30 stories or so of rising concrete and steel.

Weeds are the only visible life form. One crane stands idle. The snout of a second one rests limply on the ground, like it is taking a siesta.

Piles of rusting steel are scattered about, along with empty cable spools. The banners proclaiming: "A development of Donald J. Trump and SimDag" are weathered and turning dark from soot. One has partially broken free and is drooping from a fence.

It would appear that The Donald is in The Dumps. Too bad Rosie O'Donnell isn't here to see this.

Even the Trump name can't trump the great Florida condo implosion. The project has been plagued by vanishing buyers and lenders, cost overruns and a string of contractors and developers. It is saddled with about $3 million in construction liens.

In his usual blustery style, Trump told the Tampa Tribune last year he was prepared to buy out the project, which he could build "out of my back pocket." Never happened.

Instead, a private-equity group in Orlando called Mirabilis Ventures Inc. bought controlling interest. Ever since it has been closing offices and now is being investigated by a federal grand jury.

The project is so muddled that attorney Tom Long, who is suing to get a deposit back for two buyers in the building, says, "Frankly, I don't know who owns it."

It turns out Trump's "substantial stake" was a licensing fee for use of his name. If the project is a success, he makes a bundle. If not, then it's no big hit on his bank account.

No wonder he is married to Melania Knauss.

Buyers who put down 20 percent, many of them investors, are in a sticky situation. If they all demand their money back now, that could increase the odds of a bankruptcy.

As with many high-flying Florida condos, once you shake out speculators and flippers, it's hard to find locals who can afford to live in them.

But where there is the Trump name, hope springs eternal. At the lonely sales office, real estate agent Toni Everett still has her red laser pen ready to point out amenities on a model of the building.

Desperate for good press, she offers me first crack at any big news about the project for a positive article.

Well, the outdoor pool on the 10th floor looks killer. And you still can get a two-bed, 2.5-bath, with private elevator access, for only a million bucks.

Toni says people will be moving into Trump Tower Tampa in 2009.

If she's right, I'll take a swan dive into the neighboring Hillsborough River from the 52nd floor.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or [email][/email].

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